The house in Red Lion Square was suitable. It was far enough from the river to have a basement that didn’t flood at high tide, and was close enough to the impoverished East End of London to provide Calum McNeill with what he required. The house’s landlord, a petty Earl, had eagerly agreed to the lease. Red Lion Square had once been a prestigious address, much in demand among the wealthier denizens of the capital. But with the cholera outbreak, less than a mile north in Broadstreet, and the city’s steady expansion westward, the new addresses of note were the Mayfair squares.
Of course, McNeill had pined to go north to Scotland, but what was there for him? He was not the man he’d been before and he could not bear the thought of hurting or dishonoring his family. Better to remain in that stinking, crowded, filthy metropolis where he was just one predator among many. The massive influx of Irish immigrants during the Great Famine, and with over a million prostitutes on the street, there was very little that could not be bought for ready cash.
In fact, once he’d settled into his house, Calum was determined to discover just how long he could go without taking blood. During his journey back to England, he had fed at every opportunity that presented itself, never sure of when another would arise. But now that he was settled, and assured of easy prey, he became eager to test the bounds of his limitations.
After two weeks of holding the hunger in abeyance, suffering the gnawing cramps, the gore-filled, opium-like daydreams, watching his body age night by night in the mirror over the dusty mantelpiece, he had come to a startling conclusion. The danger in starving his need was that he might easily reach a point where he was too weak to feed it himself, and involving anyone else in his affairs would put him in a precarious position.
On the fifteenth night, he hobbled out of his house like an octogenarian, caught a handsome cab to St. Giles, and fed on the first slattern he could tempt down an alleyway. In his haste and his weakness, he had torn out her throat; it was easier to be a butcher than a surgeon. Her blood had the sulfurous taint of her part-time profession as a matchmaker. It had made him wretch and fight to keep it down, even as he soiled himself in her dead body, up against a soot-covered brick wall.
The incident shamed him. Not because he despised his urges. He’d long since come to terms with his nature. But because acting upon his nature did not require him to kill, nor did it necessitate him having sexual congress with corpses. As he returned home, sickened at himself, he knew that he would never again allow himself to become so desperate.
Soon after, McNeill had met an old army doctor, down on his luck, in an alehouse in Viner Street. The man had enlightened him on the use of laudanum, to which he had become addicted. Made from a tincture of opium, it calmed the nerves and allayed pain and, in higher doses, could produce sleep or death. Of course, Calum had known of laudanum as a treatment in the field army hospitals, but now he began to realize that it might be of use in reducing the chances of getting caught. He’d paid the old doctor five shillings to show him where it could be bought without questions, and obtained a good supply that very night.
For months after that, McNeill established his routine. He would venture forth twice a week, seek out a crowded drinking establishment, find a prostitute and dose the gin he purchased for her entertainment with the drug. It took hardly any time at all for the woman to become lightheaded and carefree. The drivers of the Hackneys he bundled the women into invariably assumed they were drunk. Back at Red Lion Square, he would feed from them carefully, and then simply use them as they expected to be used. After a few hours sleep, he would pay them their fee and a little extra for transport back to the East End. The strategy worked.
* * *
On a blustery night in mid-November, he set forth as usual, his corked vial of opiate tucked in his shirt cuff. At the Bell Tavern, in Bride Lane, he spotted a slight, red-haired whore who reminded him of the girls he’d grown up with in Argyll. It wasn’t necessary to approach her; she caught his eye and sauntered over.
“Looking for something, gov?” She grinned, her whore’s eyes flashing, hands on her hips, and small breasts pushed out. “Buy us a drink then.”
“Go sit down and I’ll bring you one.”
But she slid her arm through his and stood at the bar. The inside seam of her sleeve was splitting with wear, and Calum could see a line of grime that had embedded itself in a small crease at her neckline. Usually the dirt didn’t bother him, but there was something about her – she evoked memories of more decent women he’d known – that depressed him.
“I’m not stupid enough to leave a fine gent like you alone with the other bitches in this place. They’ll eat you up right quick,” she huffed, tightening her grip on his arm.
As she leaned over the counter a little, calling loudly for the landlord’s attention, he noticed five angry red welts on at the back of her shoulders. They began a few inches above the collar at the back of her dress. The wounds, he assumed, continued downwards. The feelings they aroused in him were a mixture of outrage and excitement, for the blood had been brought to the surface in places and the skin only just scabbing over.
“What’ll you have, gov? I’ll have a gin meself,” she smiled up at him and asked as the landlord waited for their order.
“Gin and a brandy,” repeated the landlord, giving the whore a nod before turning to get the drinks.
The woman’s fingers, her fingernails caked with soot, worried the wool of McNeill’s coat as if counting the seconds it would take to get the ounce of gin down her throat. Not only did Calum doubt he’d get a chance to slip the laudanum into her glass, but he was disconcerted by his inability to shut out the myriad details he usually ignored.
Ever since the succubus in the temple, for he could think of her no other way, his senses had become remarkably keen. For the first few months, he had had to teach himself to focus – so distracting were all the minute smells, sounds and movements that assaulted his senses.
When their glasses arrived at the bar, McNeill paid the landlord and, reminding himself that there were countless other whores he could have, handed her the gin. “You be a good girl, toss that back and run along,” he said, a conciliatory smile on his lips.
She grabbed the glass, draining it in a single swallow. “You wot?” she croaked, the alcohol squeezing her throat.
“Get along with you, girl. I’m not fond of gingers.” He fished a sixpence out of his waistcoat pocket and tucked it down the front of her dress. “Sorry love, but there’s the truth.”
“But…” she stood, empty glass in hand, and blinked at him. Almost instantly two bright spots of colour stained her cheeks and tears shimmered in her deep green eyes. She swallowed, but her voice still cracked a little as she said, “You did before. I saw you look. You fancied me, you did.”
The tears, of which he’d seen an ocean’s worth, seized his feelings in an unpleasant and unfamiliar way. “Run along,” he said, a little more tersely.
“I’ll do you for free,” she said softly, stepping closer to him. “I ain’t got nowheres to sleep. The cheapest doss is full.”
Calum could not understand why he hadn’t walked away already, but something kept him. “I’ve just given you sixpence. That should get you some place warm.”
She tightened her lips, giving her the aspect of a small child finding courage, and glanced sideways. “That goes to the landlord for letting me catch you up at the bar,” she whispered, one fat tear sliding over her reddened cheek. She sniffed. “Buy us another gin, won’t cha? I might be ginger, but I’m nice and tight where it matters.”
It was the desperation, the pointed frankness and the fear she kept so well hidden beneath the waif-like exterior that made his cock twitch. Walk away, he thought, there are a million like her, but the steady pulse in his groin didn’t agree.
“Same again?” asked the landlord, pulling Calum’s attention off the whore. The man was porcine and missing half his teeth.
“Why not?” said Calum, a creeping uneasiness climbing his spine. It did nothing to allay the maddening cock twitches. “Just the gin. A double this time,” he added. His glass of brandy sat, still untouched, on the bar.
Instantly she had threaded her arm through his again. She smelled of stale clothes and boiled cabbage. Her skin was so pale that, amidst a sprinkling of freckles, the rich blue vein in her neck stood out like a long thin bruise.
She looked up into his face. “You won’t be sorry, I swear. Whatever you fancy, I’m your girl.” Despite the brave words and the brave face, he could scent her fear now, below the rest of the all too human smells.
He would be sorry, he was quite certain of that. And she’d be sorry, too, if he couldn’t find a way to get the laudanum into her glass. When the second gin was delivered up, McNeill grabbed it before she could reach it. “You go pay the bastard what you owe. Then you’ll get your gin and we’ll be off.”
She gave him a wary look.
“Well, I must make sure that you’ll follow up on your promise, mustn’t I? Otherwise, you could guzzle it down and be off like a rabbit.”
A small smile crooked the side of her mouth. “Alright then.”
She turned and walked down the bar, her grubby hand ferreting into the front of her bodice to fish out the coin. McNeill slid the vial out of his cuff and tore at the cork. It crumbled and came apart in his fingers, half of it still lodged in the vial. Using his nail, he tried to pull it lose, but the blasted thing only slid further into the tube.
The whore was arguing with the landlord at the far end of bar. Her posture spoke of angry and final words. Calum swore under his breath, tapping the vial against the bar top to dislodge it. It partially sank into the liquid and he tipped what he could of it into the gin. She’d have half the normal dose, but there was nothing he could do about it. The girl turned back and came towards him smiling.
“Cor, thanks ever so much, gov,” she said, lifting the glass to her lips. Calum held his breath, hoping she wouldn’t notice the taste, but he needn’t have worried. Instead of savouring the liquor, she tilted her head back and let it drain down her throat. He couldn’t take his eyes off her extended neck, her tendons standing out sharply as she swallowed. Saliva flooded his mouth.
* * *
She said nothing in the cab as it drove west. Her eyes blinked lazily out at the passing street, and although somewhat intoxicated, whether from the gin or the drug, McNeill could not guess. The thin fingers in her lap played against each other, lacing and unlacing in time to the sound of the horses’ hooves striking the cobbles.
“This is posh,” she said, in a small tired voice as the Hackney pulled up in front of McNeill’s house. “Do you lodge here?”
“No, I have it to myself.” He took her hand as she stepped down, unsteadily onto the sidewalk. Surrounding her small waist with one arm, he fished the fare from his pocket with his free hand and paid the driver. “Come on then. You’re a little tipsy.”
“I am!” she keened. “I’m more than a little tipsy. But…but…” She searched for the words as McNeill helped her up the front steps and put his key in the lock. “I’ll be more than enough for your purp…purses.”
He smiled to himself as they crossed the threshold. Perhaps everything would be fine after all.
* * *
He’d left the gas on low before he’d left the house, and as he led her upstairs, and into the drawing room, she giggled with drunken delight.
“Oh, Lor. You really are a gentleman!”
He hadn’t cared much for the state of the house. The landlord had arranged to have improvements made for a fee McNeill was happy to pay, as long as it meant he didn’t need to concern himself about it.
Nonetheless, the drawing room was neat and well appointed, if somewhat in need of cleaning. As he eased the semi-conscious whore down onto the settee, she slumped sideways into a set of velvet cushions, sending up a little puff of dust.
“I said I’d do yer fer fee,” she slurred, looking up at him through half-glazed eyes. “I weren’t lyin’. You’re not half bad looking.” She laughed throatily and her hair, having pulled loose from its pins as she slid onto the pillows, trailed down the side of her face. Deep red, like blood against her milk-white skin.
Whatever her fears had been, they buried beneath the intoxicants now. McNeill went over to the fireplace, threw on some kindling and coals, and lit the fire. It wasn’t that he felt the cold anymore, but he missed the scent and the soothing, hissing sounds. He adjusted the flue and watched the flames lick at the coal. It gave him some time to tamp down his own passions.
This one was different; he wasn’t sure why. She talked like a slattern and dressed like one – god knows ,she smelled like one. Perhaps it was just her Celtic features reminding him of home. He took a few deep breaths and rose, circling around behind the sofa.
“Where are you?” she said weakly, giddily. “Ain’t ya ready yet?”
“Oh, I am.” Lifting her legs onto the settee, he moved her a little to sit alongside her.
She reached down clumsily, grasping and handful of skirt and trying to pull it up. “Well you ain’t gonna get it in sitting like that!”
“Give me a little kiss first,” he said softly, bending over her face, kissing her cheek. It was still flushed, but now from the gin. The skin felt ablaze beneath his lips. He brushed aside the fall of her hair with his hand.
“Lor,” she sighed, in something like a whisper. “I’m a whore. You don’t have ta kiss me.”
“Yes I do,” Calum muttered, burying his face in her neck. Smearing his mouth against the strong, thick pulse beneath her skin, he found the line of her vein, so plump, so beautifully outlined. She would be easy. The girl moaned and writhed beside him, her hand coming up to rest on his back. Her thin body lurched as his fangs pierced her flesh.
“Oh!” she yelped weakly. The small hand scrabbled and clutched at his shoulder.
Calum moaned as her hot blood flooded into his mouth. His lips sealed around the wound and he sucked, urging on her strong, resilient heart. Her body trembled. Soft little mews broke from her lips and the hand on his shoulder squeezed rhythmically, keeping time with him as he drew from her.
As her grasping grew weaker, he disengaged himself, licking the bites to clot the small wound.
“No…” she moaned. “Where are you…going…”
He sat up. The heart in his chest raced as her blood mixed with his, the tightness at his groin grew unbearable with the extra blood that flooded into his already painfully hard cock.
Now, now he wanted to be inside her heat. He clawed at his breeches, pulling away the buttons, freeing his cock with one hand as he moved her languid body, and rucked up her skirts with the other. Hoisting up one of her legs, moving between her stockinged thighs, Calum fought his way through the layers until he’d cleared a path for himself and plunged into the heat.
She made a high breathy sound as he breached her sex – no more than that. But she was exactly what she’d promised: tight as a glove and gorgeously wet. Her blood burned through his veins, her cunt a sweet, hot cave, he thrust into her repeatedly, his pursuit of pleasure unrestrained.
At first, she simply took it the way all the other’s he’d purchased before had done. But before long, she struggled to rise and, pushing him back onto the settee, and impaled herself on him. He grabbed her hips to guide her.
Letting her head drop onto his shoulder, she rode him, gasping each time she engulfed him, plunging downward with increasing force.
“Do it again,” she panted, sweeping her hair back and pressing her throat to his face. “Again, please!”
Calum moaned and turned his head away. “No.”
“Yes!” It was a broken, hungry exhortation. She pulled his head towards her, holding her straining neck to his mouth. “Just once more. Make it hurt,” she sobbed, her voice cracking.
He knew he should not; to take her like this would be a foolish, dangerous venture. He knew better, and yet his hands had already loosened their grip on her waist. They braced her neck and, teeth bared, he bit down, not into the vein this time, but in the valley where her throat met her shoulder, tearing into the muscled flesh.
She shouted out and convulsed. Plunging down onto his cock with a violence that forced a rough grunt from his throat, her passage squeezed around him like a vise, pulling his seed from below. Like a broken mechanical doll, her thin frame jerked and twitched against his chest. Her blood welled up, leaking out around the seal of his mouth as he failed in his attempts to keep her still.
“Again, please. Again,” she begged in a demanding, breathless voice.
But Calum’s lust was cresting. His hips strained upward, he lifted his bloody face from her torn shoulder and roared as he spent. The cool, dead seed tainted her womb in an obscene parody of a generative act.